Amherst Select Board backs Jones expansion, urges TM to advance library project

  • Jones Library JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 4/25/2017 3:27:12 PM

AMHERST —  A project to expand and renovate the Jones Library, which comes before annual Town Meeting that begins Wednesday, is being endorsed by the Select Board.

The board Monday voted unanimously that the elected trustees for the library should be allowed to seek a construction grant from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners.

The decision comes as some Amherst residents express concerns about the project and the possibility that the home-like feel of the original 1928 library will be lost, the 1993 addition will be demolished and an expansion will encroach on the Kinsey Memorial Garden and the neighboring Strong House Museum.

But with extensive deferred maintenance and a need to make the Jones Library more accessible for disabled and mobility-challenged individuals, Select Board members are urging that the project be allowed to continue.

Library trustee Alex Lefebvre, a member of its buildings and facilities committee, said the project is much needed. The library already received a planning and design grant for $50,000 that was supplemented with $25,000 by Town Meeting.

This money allowed Finegold Alexander Architects of Boston to do preliminary design work and concepts showing a building that would expand from 47,000 square feet to 65,000 square feet.

“We are asking them (Town Meeting) to approve the preliminary designs,” Lefebvre said.

But the architects won’t be able to do a full design and development plan unless a construction grant is received.

Lefebvre said the project guarantees that the library will remain at the 43 Amity St. site, that it will have an additional 18,000 square feet and that there will be specific space dedicated to the services provided by the library.

The actual layout of the expanded and renovated building may change in response to community demands, with Lefebvre noting that the architects may take care not to impact the memorial garden.

Library Director Sharon Sharry said the construction grant would allow a $35.6 million project to move forward, with the town contributing about $15 million of that total. Sharry said library trustees hope to raise some portion of the town’s share through a capital campaign.

Sharry said she disputes arguments that there is extra space in the current building that could be put to better use. “We do not have any unused space,” Sharry said.

And the idea that services could move off site is not plausible, Lefebvre said, noting that the library is the “great equalizer” and has a philosophy to continue offering all its current programs in the building.

Without the state grant, deferred maintenance will have to be paid for with only town money.

A preliminary estimate for this cost is expected Thursday from Western Builders of Granby, though this will not provide costs for bringing the library into Americans with Disabilities Act compliance, or needed electrical improvements.

If Town Meeting gives the OK to seek a construction grant, the Jones will be one of 33 libraries competing for the state money, with five to eight communities invited to go through the process in the first year.

Should Town Meeting vote the project down, though, Sharry said it could be another decade before state money is available again.

Employees to get raise

In other business before the Select Board Monday, 55 town employees who are not part of local unions and don’t have contracts with the town will receive pay raises on July 1.

The Select Board approved both a 2 percent cost-of-living adjustment for nonunion personnel and what Personnel Board Chairman Tony Butterfield calls a “fairly significant” change to the compensation schedule.

“We’re doing this primarily out of concern for fairness,” Butterfield said. “We want this wonderful group of employees to be pretty much treated the same as other employees the town has.”

The 55 employees range from department heads to planning staff to the town nurse.

Select Board member Connie Kruger said she commends the Personnel Board for grappling with the issue of ensuring nonunion personnel would get cost of living adjustments on par with unions representing Department of Public Works employees, police officers, firefighters and service employees.

“The end product is something I feel like I can recommend to you,” Kruger said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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